Activation of T Lymphocytes in Atherosclerotic Plaques
Objective—To decipher the immunologic mechanisms of plaque maturation and rupture, it is necessary to analyze the phenotypes and distribution of individual lymphocytes that migrate to the plaques, as well as their activation at different stages of plaque formation.
Methods and Results—We developed a protocol to isolate plaque-residing immune cells and analyze their status using polychromatic flow cytometry. We found that the composition and phenotype of T lymphocytes in the plaques differs from that in blood. CD4 and, in particular, CD8+ T cells in plaques are highly activated; the fraction of CD8 T cells coexpressing CD25 and HLA-DR in plaques was 10 times larger than in blood.
Conclusion—The first flow-cytoanalysis of individual T cells in atherosclerotic plaques indicates that plaques represent a separate immunologic compartment from blood with lymphocytes characterized by a high level of T-cell activation, which is compatible with the presence of antigen(s) that trigger infiltration activation of these cells. The ability to isolate and characterize these cells may lead to the identification of such antigens.
- Received April 1, 2011.
- Accepted September 13, 2011.
- © 2011 American Heart Association, Inc.